Turn on the news any day of the week, and you’ll likely hear about another ransomware attack, data breach, or cybersecurity incident. Hardly a company seems safe from the rising tide of cyber threats.

Just look at some recent victims: In May 2021, the Colonial Pipeline hack disrupted gas supplies along the East Coast. One month later, JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier, paid an $11 million ransom to resolve a ransomware attack. Twitter, JD Sports, T-Mobile, and Reddit have all suffered breaches this year alone.

Current cost data is equally alarming. The global average cost of a cyberattack has ballooned to $4.45 million — up 15% over the past three years — while global cybercrime costs are projected to reach $10.5 trillion annually, per Cybersecurity Ventures.

The question every organization should ask is not will we be targeted, but when will we be targeted? Make no mistake, cybercriminals are constantly honing their skills, evolving their tactics, and finding new vulnerabilities to exploit. No sector or company size is immune.

Fortunately, with the proper security precautions in place, you can substantially lower your risk and frustrate attackers’ efforts. Here are some essential elements you need in your arsenal.

1. Comprehensive employee training

Employees are often the first line of defense against cyberattacks. But without proper training, they can also be the weakest link. According to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), 74% of all breaches involve the human element.

Comprehensive employee training goes beyond mere awareness. It involves regular phishing simulations, workshops on identifying social engineering tactics, and creating a culture where cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility.

The Twitter hack of 2020 — where hackers manipulated employees into handing over credentials that accessed internal systems — is a stark reminder of the importance of continuous education.

By transforming your team into a human firewall, you not only protect your organization but also empower your employees to be part of the solution.

2. Robust network security

Your network is more than just a collection of connected devices; it’s the highway that facilitates your organization’s operations. Protecting this highway is like securing the boundaries of your organization.

Technologies like firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDSs), intrusion prevention systems (IPSs), and network access controls are essential. But it doesn’t stop there. Network segmentation lets you create barriers within your network, limiting the spread of threats.

By securing the perimeter, you can ensure that even if one part is compromised, others remain intact.

3. Constant vulnerability management

Software flaws and misconfigurations are like unlocked doors waiting to be exploited.

It’s imperative that you continuously scan for these vulnerabilities and promptly patch them. Industry professionals still talk about the 2017 Equifax breach that exposed 143 million records, all because of an unpatched vulnerability.

Closing these doors requires a proactive approach, where security teams are not just reacting to threats but actively seeking and addressing potential weaknesses. After all, an exposed vulnerability is an open invitation to attackers.

4. Secure access controls

Access controls are the gatekeepers to your organization’s most valuable assets. This means implementing complex passwords, multifactor authentication (MFA), and limiting access to sensitive data are all must-haves.

But access control is also about knowing when to revoke access. For example, immediately disabling former employees’ credentials is crucial as 75% of insider threat cases involve a disgruntled ex-employee, according to the 2022 Unit 42 Incident Response Report.

Employees don’t necessarily have to be disgruntled to be a threat to your business, though. Yahoo, for instance, recently sued a former senior research scientist for stealing valuable trade secrets minutes after being offered a job by a competitor.

By acting as vigilant gatekeepers, you can ensure that only authorized individuals can access vital information.

5. Strong endpoint protection

Endpoint protection is about securing the devices that interact directly with users and data. These endpoints, such as laptops and servers, are often the frontline in the battle against cyberthreats.

Tools like endpoint detection and response (EDR), antivirus software, disk encryption, and application whitelisting are crucial in this battle. By shielding the frontline, you not only prevent attacks but also gain insights into potential threats, allowing for more informed decision-making.

6. Thorough data security

Data is the lifeblood of the modern organization. It’s the treasure that fuels growth, innovation, and customer satisfaction. Safeguarding this treasure requires a multifaceted approach.

Classifying sensitive data, implementing robust controls around high-risk information, encrypting both data at rest and in transit, and regular backups are crucial. By treating data as a valuable asset, you can improve the chances it remains secure, accessible, and compliant with regulatory requirements.

7. Regularly tested incident response plan

No defense is unbreachable. Even with the best security measures, some attacks will inevitably succeed. That’s why you need a well-maintained and regularly tested incident response plan.

This plan should detail roles, responsibilities, and processes for detection, containment, eradication, and recovery, including updated business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plans.

You must also be prepared to restore impacted systems and data quickly. Maintain recent backups of critical assets, including immutable backups, to ensure you can rapidly restore when needed. Furthermore, test these backup processes regularly so you know they’re up to date and align with any changes to your production environment.

8. Continuous audits and assessments

Security is not a one-time effort; it’s a nonstop journey. Periodic third-party audits and vulnerability assessments provide an external perspective on your security posture as they help identify gaps, risks, and opportunities to address any shortcomings.

The ISO/IEC 27001 standard, adopted by organizations worldwide, emphasizes the importance of regular audits and continuous improvement. Embracing this culture ensures that your security measures evolve with the changing threat landscape to provide robust protection against current and future threats.

Vigilance against the rising tide of cyberthreats

While today’s cyber landscape may seem daunting, taking a proactive, layered approach to security with continuous enhancement substantially reduces risk.

With each control layered upon the next, your organization creates greater resilience against threats. It’s about ongoing diligence, training, investment, and a commitment to excellence. Although robust security has costs, these costs pale in comparison to the potential reputational damage and recovery expenses following an attack.

Cybersecurity is no longer just an IT concern — it’s an organizational imperative. Being proactive now can help prevent your company from becoming the next ransomware headline.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Giardina

Justin Giardina is the Chief Technology Officer for 11:11 Systems.

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